Ask the UMC: What does it mean when we vow to ‘resist evil, injustice and oppression’?
In our baptismal vows, we commit to "renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world" and "resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves."
Since the earliest times, the vows of Christian baptism have begun with the renunciation of evil and then the profession of faith and loyalty to Christ.
The renunciation of evil is rooted in Scripture. In Romans 12:9, we are taught to, "Love unambiguously, hating the evil, holding fast to the truth." Amos 5:15 similarly says, "Hate evil; love good. Maintain justice in the courts."
Loving and hating are not seen in Scripture as mere attitudes, but are rather understood as always being embodied in real action. The verb in Romans 12 for hate in particular means to hate violently or specifically, to abhor so completely that one takes action against the object of such hatred (the evil itself). We are called to take strong action against the evil that may be said to motivate, pre-condition or, in some instances, cause the actions other persons may take.
This does not, however, warrant violence against other people. Jesus is clear how we are to treat those who act with evil against us: love them, praying for and doing good even to those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44).
A persistent theme, especially in the Old Testament and through the prophets, is the constant call for evil to be resisted, for an end to unjust economic practices, unjust courts, and to oppression or failure to care properly for widows and orphans and foreigners in the land.
The 10 Commandments also make clear that we are to resist evil as it presents itself to us, and the rest of the justice codes in the Old Testament (Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus, in particular) make clear the social costs of failing to do this.
All of this biblical and baptismal history is the reason that the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church and many of the items in the Book of Resolutions so frequently call United Methodists to direct action to resist evil, whether that be by boycotts, by witnessing against irresponsible use of the earth and its resources, or against war as a normal instrument of national policy, or against racism, or against capital punishment, or for workers’ rights, and the list goes on (and on and on).
Remember that it was the Methodists in England who were primarily responsible (on the ground) for the abolition of slavery, the creation of the labor movement, and the radical reformation of the penal justice and prison code of the whole British empire, not simply because they avoided evil in their own lives, but because they organized to fight it as it appeared in the larger society.
United Methodists today, as servants of Christ, are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.
This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.
First published Dec. 10, 2018.